Human Rights Tribunal sides with Montrealer told to ‘go back to Mexico’ | Montreal Gazette

Human Rights Tribunal sides with Montrealer told to ‘go back to Mexico’ | Montreal Gazette

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Beyond the moral support, for Peña, it was important his son witness him stand up for himself — and for anyone else who has been through something similar.

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“I wanted him to see me take back my respect, my dignity,” Peña said recently from his home in Montreal West. “And to feel proud of our origins, as well.”

Last month, the tribunal ruled in Peña’s favour, awarding him nearly $4,000 in damages for derogatory and “racist in nature” comments made to him while working as a truck driver.

Speaking shortly after the decision, the 56-year-old father of two hesitated when asked what the ruling means to him. What he hopes most, he then said, is that his fight will encourage others to do as he did.

“If someone goes through this, please do not keep your mouth shut. We have to end this,” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “Nobody has the right to insult an immigrant because of where he or she comes from.”

Peña’s family moved to Quebec from El Salvador in 1986, leaving the country in the middle of a years-long civil war. They settled in Côte-des-Neiges, a hub for new arrivals to Montreal.

According to last week’s judgment, Peña arrived about a half-hour early. The person overseeing the site that day, Steve Poirier, approached him in a hostile manner, upset that Peña was early.

When Peña handed him an invoice, Poirier complained it was damaged and asked for a “clean” bill. Peña said he could call his company and have a new one sent, but Poirier grew irate.

Until that moment, he later told a judge, he always felt accepted in Quebec. But the short interaction changed things.

Testifying before the tribunal, Poirier said he didn’t remember saying the insults, but didn’t deny he did, either.

He said his reaction was impulsive: He was angry that day because Peña arrived early, disrupting his work schedule. And he alleged Peña nearly crushed his legs backing up his truck, something Peña argued he would have been fired for if true.

Reached by telephone, Poirier declined to comment on the decision beyond denying what happened and repeating he had had issues with Peña previously.

In her ruling, Judge Doris Thibault noted the tribunal has often established that anger doesn’t excuse or justify discriminatory remarks. The fact Peña was subjected to them while working, the judge added, makes it even worse.

“These comments are violent, denigrating, hurtful and racist in nature. By adding that he wanted a clean bill, Mr. Poirier suggested that Mr. Peña is a dirty and careless person,” Thibault ruled.

“He told me, ‘One day I’m going to tell my children what happened,’ ” Peña recalled, “ ‘and about how you came here today, and how you took back everything that was taken from you.’ ”

This content was originally published here.



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